By David Williams
Mason Grady had played with George North and Dan Biggar years before the youngster made his Wales debut against England.
It was more than a decade ago when North and Biggar were youngsters in Warren Gatland’s first spell as head coach and Grady was an eight-year-old moving his heroes around on his X-Box.
Now, he is preparing in a squad with both players, to try and prevent a Six Nations wooden spoon by beating Italy in Rome on Saturday.
Cardiff centre Grady, 20, made his debut in the defeat to England and could well keep North out of the team to meet Italy next week in what will be a wooden spoon decider.
After all the strife and turmoil in Welsh rugby, Grady’s grab at stardom has gone under the radar, but he could well be the long-term solution to the problem No.13 shirt.
North has been tried there on and off, along with moves back to his familiar wing position – the slot where Grady used to use the 30-year-old Lions star on his console.
“It’s great to be learning from the likes of George North and Dan Biggar,” says Grady, whose elder brother Cory Allen won six caps for Wales.
“I watched them all as a kid and I can remember playing the 2011 World Cup video game and playing with all those. It’s pretty mad to now be learning off them.
“To be able to learn off George is terrific. The things he does on the field are amazing.
“He’s a very good role model for me and he’s been very helpful, telling me all the little things that I need to do better. He’s taken me aside and helped me.”
Someone needs to take Wales coach Warren Gatland aside and remind him how he used to win make-or-break matches.
Wales Facing Six Nations Whitewash
Gatland has lost three on the trot since he returned to take charge, although Wales were already in a tailspin long before he was summoned and their current record is just three wins from their last 15 matches.
If they fail in Rome, where they have not fallen in 16 years, then it will be odds-on a whitewash campaign with only France to follow a week later in Paris.
Gatland is likely to keep his faith in Grady as well as his fellow 20-year-old centre partner Joe Hawkins of the Ospreys.
With many senior players set to leave Wales to play elsewhere after wage cuts, Grady and Hawkins are the future.
“I didn’t expect it to happen so soon,” says Grady.
“To be honest, I just wanted to get myself in the Cardiff team. I don’t know if I’ll play against either Italy or France. I’m just focusing on training at the moment, trying to better myself.”
In a tournament beset by all manner of problems for Wales, one cause for optimism has been the emergence of promising youngsters Jac Morgan, Tommy Reffell, Christ Tshiunza, Dafydd Jenkins, Joe Hawkins and Grady who have all tasted Championship experience.
Only last season, Tshiunza, Jenkins, Hawkins and Grady were Under-20 internationals.
“There was a moment when Joe, Christ, Dafydd and I sat around and said it would be amazing to play in the next World Cup,” said Grady.
“To then play in the Six Nations before the World Cup with those boys is pretty mad. Getting a cap with them was amazing. I definitely want more caps and to build from here.
“I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. To be honest, I just wanted to get myself in the Cardiff team. I don’t know if I’ll play against either Italy or France.
“My debut was pretty surreal. I was pretty disappointed with the result, but proud to get my first cap. It was an unbelievable experience running out in front of 74,000 people – a dream come true. I’d love to experience it all again.”